It seems we were the only ones who didn’t know that celebrated singer Mumba Yachi is not a Zambian citizen. Our friends in the music industry, especially those close to him, seem to have had this information for many years. They were well aware that the singer was a Congolese, illegally squatting in the country while doing his music business.

For those who don’t follow Zambian music closely, Mumba Yachi is a guitarist and vocal performer who first appeared on the music scene around 2010 but never made a breakthrough. However, five years later, Yachi gained so much recognition and publicity because of his unique arrangement of Afro music. He became such a celebrated star that when he announced the launch of his “I am Lenshina” Album in May 2015, former vice-president Guy Scott, Cabinet ministers, businessmen and CEOs from various corporate companies were the first to buy tickets for the sold-out concert hosted at Joe Pilatus farm in State Lodge area. To cut the long story short, Mumba Yachi has been entertaining this country’s VVIPs for years now, but apparently, he was just a foreigner with no proper records of his nationality.

Last week, the Immigration Department arrested Yachi on grounds that in May 2016, the singer entered Zambia (from a business trip) through Chirundu using a Zambian passport and green National Registration Card. He claimed to be a Zambian citizen, a statement which he later changed when he was summoned for questioning in August – admitting that he was, in fact, Congolese.

Immediately this news broke, we were flooded with comments and statements from the singer’s close friends in the industry and of course music fans. People were enraged by the Immigration Department’s move and accused the authority of applying the law selectively because according to them, there were many illegal immigrants doing illegal business in the country. Others picked names of Congolese footballers they know who have adopted Zambian names and are freely playing professional soccer without being questioned by the Immigration Department. All the solidarity statements that came alluded to the fact that Mumba Yachi was a peaceful person and did not deserve to be arrested and locked up in the manner he was.

What caught our attention was the statement from the Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM). Led by president Njoya Tembo, ZAM claimed Yachi was a fully paid up member of the association who was merely a victim of the brutally drawn colonial boundaries that separate people of the same families and communities.

“While recognising the importance of the Immigration Department to carry out its mandate, we note at the same time that it has a duty to promote a human rights based approach and culture in respect of immigration controls. In that regard, Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) urges that a human face be attached to such operations in consideration to tribes, communities and families which were brutally divided by the greed of the colonial powers without any due regard to the status of people on the ground…In a show of support, ZAM will accordingly help Mumba with legal support throughout this process,” stated Tembo.

To a wider degree, this statement exposes ZAM, the people behind it and the purpose it serves. It further raises questions about the procedure followed before one can belong to this association. How much does the Zambia Association of Musicians know about its members? Do they just register anyone who has released a song before, or any person who has a recording studio? Does Mr Njoya Tembo’s association demand any form of identification card before registering its members? If ZAM knew that Mumba Yachi was a foreigner without a residence permit, why did they not advise him to apply for one, or better still, a citizenship having lived in Zambia for over 10 years? What kind of friends are they to Mumba Yachi? How can they be so proud to offer legal support to a man whose predicament they knew before he was arrested, but did nothing about? We are told that the singer has already admitted faking his Zambian citizenship, so what will the ZAM lawyer be defending in court?

It is clear to us that the Zambia Association of Musicians is mostly interested in money from paid up members. They never really care where the member hails from as long as they have paid their affiliation fees. If an Al-Shabaab brother came with a banjo claiming to be a Kalindula maestro, Njoya Tembo and his ZAM would register him without delay. And if police arrested such a brother, ZAM’s position would be that “he is a fully paid up member, we stand with him”.

Surely, we are concerned with this development because ZAM is a government-recognised association registered through the National Arts Council (NAC) under the Ministry of Tourism and Arts. At least, we expect the National Arts Council to take interest in knowing the members who are registered in these associations; not necessarily for purposes of knowing who is Zambian and who is a foreigner, but for good governance.

It is also of concern that after the arrest of such a highly celebrated singer as Mumba Yachi, there has been no statement from the said National Arts Council. They have no comment over the matter. NAC seems to have distanced itself from this case because the singer has committed a crime, but if Yachi had won African Idols for Zambia, they would be all over praising him. In fact, it would be the Minister of Arts Mr Charles Banda himself who would take him to State House for a luncheon before conferring him with the free man of the city status.

Anyway, our point is that even though Zambia is home to its own citizens, this is a country that has welcomed hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and refugees than any other in the region. Well-meaning immigrants, especially peaceful and talented ones like Mumba Yachi, are definitely welcome in Zambia. It is not a crime to desire to be Zambian if you were born in Congo, but there are several legally accepted ways of doing so, rather than faking citizenship.